Todd McShay had the Broncos taking the Alabama cornerback at No. 9 in his latest mock draft, but is that a good idea?
If you’re looking for a pro-ready player to be on the starting roster Week 1, you could hardly go wrong with the son of a former NFL cornerback and the most recent defensive MVP of the college football national championship – Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
As a true freshman at Alabama in 2018, Surtain II started 12 games and recorded 37 tackles and one interception. The following season, he amassed 42 tackles, three forced fumbles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and one quarterback pressure.
Surtain II finished his college career by being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and was the top-rated corner by Pro Football Focus, allowing 25 yards or less in 10 of his 13 games. He broke up a team-high 12 passes and totaled 38 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and added two quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and a pick-six from 25 yards out.
So we know he’s talented, and we know he has the pedigree. But do the Broncos need to go cornerback at No. 9 after having gotten two veteran starters in free agency? And although depth at corner is always good insurance, is the Broncos’ defense a good fit? If you still say yes to the previous two questions, do the Broncos take Surtain at No. 9?
Patrick Surtain II is a CB prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.97 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 7 out of 1755 CB from 1987 to 2021.
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 28, 2021
Why Surtain makes sense in Denver
Personally, I don’t know that it does, but Todd McShay believed it did in his recent mock draft. And as noted above, there’s no doubt the Bama corner knows his way around a secondary and could likely jump right into a starting lineup if called upon.
McShay noted that Surtain is an “instinctive and a natural playmaker,” and there’s no question that would be a big help in Vic Fangio’s scheme.
Daniel Jeremiah highlights Surtain’s ideal frame for corner – long and rangy – and believes he can play in any scheme.
“He varies his technique in press coverage, and I love it when he jumps wideouts with a quick one- or two-hand jam. When he’s not shooting his hands, he’s patient and doesn’t take false steps. He has build-up speed when challenged vertically, and he can find (and play) the ball.”
He’s very quick to anticipate in zone coverage and will drive on balls in front of him. He’s fluid in his movement and understands how to read route combinations to position himself for plays. He’s very willing and effective against the run, too. He fights through blocks and is a reliable tackler in space.
Given that good tackling is almost as important to Fangio and coverage, Surtain has some promise here.
And while Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby are getting paid the big bucks to help out fellow veteran Bryce Callahan, Broncos know better than most teams how crucial a strong depth chart is when it comes to the secondary. As “BroncoTodd” noted in the comments of the McShay mock story, don’t forget that the Broncos “were signing guys off the street to play CB last year….”
True statement. And among the positions a team can’t have too many of, cornerback is right up there. That and edge rusher, in my opinion.
So if the Broncos stay with the ninth pick – and Paton doesn’t see any promising quarterbacks still on the board – having one of the top two cornerbacks in the draft class (depending on who you ask) on the roster is definitely going to make the team better. And that’s always a sensible draft pick.
Why Surtain doesn’t make sense here
While there is a lot to love about Surtain’s game, the cornerback class is stout this year, so one main question is whether Fangio could get just as much out of another really good cornerback later in the first round (such as Jaycee Horn) or in a later round – and use the ninth pick to either trade down and get some capital or get a more valuable position without as much depth.
As many noted in the McShay mock, Justin Field, Micah Parsons and Penei Sewell were still on the board. Arguably all three of those players are farther apart from the rest of the field at their position compared to Surtain and his fellow cornerbacks.
Scheme fit is also a bit of a question, though if there’s a coach who can figure out how to put a defensive player’s strengths to work in his defense, it’s Fangio.
Surtain would likely play on the boundary to put his size and press-man ability to good use. Though, at least one draft source doesn’t like Surtain’s speed against some of the league’s fastest receivers like Tyreek Hill – which is obviously a problem since the Broncos have to deal with Hill at least twice a year. Given Fangio’s off-zone scheme, Surtain may not be quite as comfortable as in press man, but his athleticism could be adapted to Fangio’s needs to still cause a disturbance.
.@AlabamaFTBL @PatSurtainll has every trait, skill, and habit to be as great as he wants. The day he joins your #NFL team he makes you better b/c he will know what to do. Will play fast. And compete everyday. My #1 CB. Go get him!! #crimsontide #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Tm98gjUusX
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) March 25, 2021
What people are saying
Patrick Surtain II is a highly touted cornerback for the Crimson Tide. …The junior cornerback’s length, discipline, and mild-mannered playing style are the best attributes of his game. Surtain II’s deep speed will be the biggest question that he will need to answer on the next level as there have been some occurrences of where he’s surrendered throws into the deeper portions of the field. …Surtain II is best served as a boundary corner where he can defend the short side of the field. …He is best in a press-man coverage scheme that allows him to mostly play man coverage, but also a small mixture of zone concepts in certain situations.
Surtain played well in 2020. He had some issues against Tennessee and was beaten by the Florida Gators’ Trevon Grimes for a 50-yard touchdown in the SEC Championship, illustrating that Surtain lacks elite speed and twitch, but is a big corner who is reliable to cover up big receivers. At the pro level, Surtain would not be a corner to match up against fast explosive wideouts like a Tyreek Hill, Will Fuller or Robby Anderson. However, Surtain still looks like a good outside corner who could have Pro Bowl potential.
Most of the top defensive players in this draft class come with some glaring concerns. But not Patrick Surtain II. He checks all the boxes of a potential perennial Pro Bowler on and off the field: pedigree, physical talent, production and intelligence, just to name a few. It’s really hard to identify a legitimate flaw in his game, which sets the Alabama cornerback apart from the rest of the field.
I believe Patrick Surtain II is the best defensive player going into the draft. He has a great deal of experience after playing three years at ‘Bama against the best competition every Saturday. Not to mention, he practiced daily against a fleet of top receivers (DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle in this draft class, as well as 2020 first-rounders Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy), honing both his man-to-man skills and zone principals. Surtain was coached by his father, who had his own 11-year NFL career, before playing under the best defensive back coach in the country in Nick Saban. That’s why he is clean, skilled and ready to immediately upgrade an NFL team’s secondary on Day 1.
Patrick Surtain Sr. on why his son is the best corner in the draft:
“I am a cornerback connoisseur, so I study all of these guys. I try to watch all of their games. …I actually talked to Jaycee [Horn]. Really good dude. I know his father, and I played against his father. The thing that separates Pat is probably everything. His athleticism, being at Alabama, being under Nick Saban, his understanding of the game, the defense they play at Alabama is the same way they play in the NFL. He has been training for this day for a long time, and all of those guys have natural, physical abilities. I think Pat separates himself by the level of competition at Alabama.”
As noted, there’s not much criticism about Surtain’s technique, athleticism, play or work ethic. So the key for Paton would just be deciding if going cornerback at No. 9 is the best value for the first round in the draft – and if so, is Surtain the best fit in Fangio’s defense.